I’m sure you’ve you heard the term, best-laid plans? In the UK, and most developed countries, we’re all about plans. So much so that society has even developed a pretty clear plan, or path for us through life, ticking off goals as we go.
If the course runs smoothly, our ideal path through life might look something like this:
• Do well in school
• Get a good degree
• Step on the career ladder
• Buy a car
• Move up the career ladder
• Buy a house
• Have kids
• Reach the top of your career ladder
• Go on a cruise or two if you’re knees are still up to it
Now there is nothing wrong with what society expects of us though it does seem to lead to excessive drinking, billions spent on antidepressants, a large part of the UK population feeling unsatisfied with their lives, and this constant search for something more. A more that’s often not found, so drama is sought instead – spend a week in an office to witness how much drama is created over the simplest things: ‘Can you believe that Brenda forgot to offer Sandra a slice of cake!’ etc.…
Interestingly, in more recent times, commercialism has made societies’ ideals even more extreme.
You can now throw in the need to upgrade all parts of our life, TV, Bigger TV, 4K TV…. ULTRA 4K TV, the same for phones, trainers, kitchens… and on it goes.
And most people just tick on by, they get that house, that bigger house, they have the kids and a second kid all in the hope that our retirements will be this major, super wonderful thing.
And perhaps, just perhaps it will be.
The stats aren’t entirely in favour of a fun retirement though sadly. On the plus side, the average lifespan in the UK now is now around 80 years old and has increased year on year for the last 110 years.
The downside is that that average retirement age is 65 yet over 40% of people are suffering ill health by the time they actually get to retire.
One of the saddest stories I was told in recent times, regarding retirement (as people tell me sad things all the time, being a therapist), was about a woman’s plans with her husband – Let's call them Martha and John.
At 20 they had gone to Australia for a gap year together, and they’d had such an amazing time that they swore to go back. In fact, on their return to the UK, once married they set up joint savings account for their return to Oz.
Life and children came along, but still, they saved. Only small amounts, but enough that once they retired, once their kids and grown up and flown the nest, they could take their trip. And as the years past, the trip evolved, it took on power and meaning through their lives. It started to represent all their goals and ambitions.
‘It’ll be all worth it in the end; just think of us driving across Australia…’
Retirement was agreed for both of them at 55 years old. Ambitious, but they worked hard, planned well and saved, and…
Well, I’m sure even those who aren’t the sharpest in the toolbox can figure out where this is going sadly.
Not long after his 50th Birthday, John collapsed, out of the blue in the street. He was rushed to the hospital, and six weeks later he died of previously undiagnosed cancer.
I met this woman when I worked for Carers Trust. 55 I believe she was at the time. She worked a floor above me and though it was a big building it had the tiniest staff room. It wasn’t long after I’d handed my notice in as I was leaving on a long trip.
The word had gotten around, and while making coffee, Martha asked about my plans. I said where we were going and she asked me if I’d ever been to Australia. I said I had, but I’d love to go back.
‘You can’t leave these things, Dante, if you really want to do something you have to make it happen sooner rather than later. I planned to retire and drive through the outback, but my husband died before we got chance’.
Well, I have to say, that made for a pretty sombre afternoon, though it only solidified my thoughts on one of life’s biggest gambles.
In the UK (it’s about the same for the States), we live 60 to 65 years of healthy life. And though many people live longer than 65, the majority do so suffering ill health.
And yet, what do we do, we save and work, and work and save, for this magical time when we don’t have to work and save and save and work.
This magical time when we’ll have enough money to travel the world, to go on adventures, to leap off boats and trek through jungles. To climb those volcanoes and to lead an amazing life.
Can anyone else see the madness here? We work super hard, so we can have amazing times, at the more challenging end of our lives. Not to be disrespectful to anyone who’s over 65 and in ill health, but having leapt off a few boats, and climbed the odd volcano I can tell you it’s hard enough at any age, never mind when your knees have had 60 plus years of wear.
Now I’m not saying that everyone should just quit their jobs and go long term travelling. It’s not for everyone and having been on four extended trips (those where you give up everything and buy a one-way ticket), I can tell you that they are not the answer to everything either.
I’ve been told many times that going travelling is just running away, but of course, people forget that when you go travelling you take yourself with you, so there is no real escape.
However, sitting back and waiting for some kind of magical retirement, is no way to go either. There has to be some kind of middle ground.
Did you know that if you make a clear and defined goal that you’ve 70% more chance of reaching that goal than if you’re just flaky about it?
Which is where bucket lists come in, or in my case, my Epic Quest. Of course, just saying ‘I want to swim with dolphins’ isn’t going to make that happen.
It will start to prime your subconscious mind into noticing opportunities where you can do that, but the more specific you are, the better.
Our subconscious mind can process 20,000,000 bits of information a second, our conscious mind about 40 bits. But most of us let the power of our subconscious mind go to waste, they leave all that processing power idling by, not working for us in the best way it could.
Our subconscious minds take in vast amounts of information, and then filters it down and presents that to the conscious mind. It does this based on what filters, beliefs, ideals, etc we have in place – but basically, it does it based on what our conscious mind feeds into it.
If we decide it’s a bleak day, and everything is miserable, our subconscious will start filtering information to prove that you’re right – kind of it, I know. And there is always misery in the world, so our subconscious has no issue finding terrible stuff to prove just how bleak bleak can be.
Have you ever decided on a new phone? And then see adverts for that phone everywhere? Well, this is because you primed your subconscious (this time with something good).
When it comes to fun adventures, then we can use a bucket list to prime our subconscious to support us here too.
A standard bucket list alone is not enough; you need a little bit more to get things moving.
Rather than a standard bucket list, try this exercise instead.
First make a list of, at least, ten things that you really want to do. Perhaps this is stuff that you’ve been putting off or things that you’ve always wanted to do, but for one reason or another, things have always gotten in your way.
You can look through online lists to get ideas, but try to ensure these are things you’ve always wanted to do. Believe me; dolphins are pretty noisy up close and BIG!
Once you’ve got a list give each of them a score out of ten for how much you’d like to tick off the activity/adventure.
For now, disregard anything that scores less than a seven and see what you have left.
Out of these, choose one thing that you could act upon within the next year and one that perhaps might need a little more time.
I personally believe that if something has scored more than seven, and it’s something you really, really want to do, then you should be doing it within the next five years. Any longer than that, and it’ll become a ‘leave it for retirement thing’ and that’s just asking for trouble.
Now with the thing that you can do within the next year, make a plan, write something down, do some research.
Have you always wanted singing lessons? Do you want to fly a plane? What about see volcanic lava?
Whatever it is, work out what you need to do to make that happen, and start putting those plans into action. And once you’ve done this wonderful thing, choose the next one and start working on that.
Now the longer-term thing, plan that too, work out what you’d need to do. My long term thing is to visit Bora Bora – something that I’d need a ton of money for and a slight mind shift to make happen.
The mind shift is that for the price of visiting Bora Bora for two weeks, I could probably travel around South East Asia for a year – but still, I’ve done the latter and yet to do the former.
My plan to get to Bora Bora is to use a cunning app I have on my phone that lets me swap bits of change into a savings account. Back in the days of pockets full of change, I used to have a huge coin jar and keep in it anything that was 50p or less. The app Moneybox lets me do the same thing with a few swaps – it’s clever stuff, and so far I haven’t noticed the money from my account, and it’s mounting up nicely.
My short term goal at the moment is to speak Spanish at a decent level for my trip to Puerto Rico in October. To do this, I found a site called italki.com which lets you find native speaking tutors for a great price. If your goal is to learn a language, here is a great place to start.
If you’re more into making things seem like a game, then you could try using an Epic Quest rather than a bucket list, it has a little less ‘hint of death’ about it and a touch more fun. You can check out mine here.
On a final note, I’ve been home from my last trip a year, and though I’ve done some cool things in that time, I could feel I was starting to settle – I even caught myself looking at a giant TV and thinking ‘oh that would look great in the living room.’
And then last week (or some random week in the past, if you read this six-months after I wrote it), I had a week of plans. Great plans, plans that should have ended up with a lovely night away and a fun conference on a subject that I love.
My body, on the other hand, had a different idea. A fun week-long bug got in the way.
This was super painful because I stayed in the most amazing hotel in Birmingham. I do love a fancy hotel, and the rooms in the Macdonald Burlington are grand and well worth a visit. Especially since there’s so much choice and competition in Birmingham, the Macdonald Burlington is a beautiful option.
I know I was ill and should have just been resting, but when there’s delicious food on offer I couldn’t resist – we all know it’s madness to turn down a three-course meal when it’s offered, I know, I know, not thought through, but there we go.
Needless to say, I didn’t make it to the conference, my own stupid fault really for not being able to turn down amazing food.
If you’re wondering what my point is, well I’ll tell you, I’m good like that.
Having a week of feeling ill where things out of my control got in the way of my life was a stark reminder of why it’s important to make and act on our dreams and not leave them for some imaginary point on the future.
In the end that illness cost me a lot of money mind, as when I came home, I decided to add a side trip to Puerto Rico in the Caribbean to my US and US/Canada adventure in October.
The time to live your life is now. And if you can’t do it right now, because to be fair, most of us can’t because of general commitments, we should be planning when we can live it, and living it as soon as we can.
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